Saturday, July 30, 2011

Stuff I Learned About Beestings

I've learned a quite a lot about beestings in the last day or two.

If you're out cycling on a windy day in an area with lots of flowering fields and apiculture, you're likely to get stung.

You should get the sting out as soon as possible. It keeps pumping in venom even after the dying bee has fallen off. Also, the longer it's in, the bigger the risk of a secondary infection.

If stung in the head, see a doctor. You can get secondary infections from beestings. If the infection is in the head, there are all kinds of ways bacteria can make their way inside the skull, which is really bad news. Antibiotics are good against those. You can even get tetanus from a beesting, so it's good to keep that particular shot up to date!

You might be allergic, but you'll only know when you get stung a second time.

The allergy can be quite specific. Wasp stings might not do much at all, while beestings might be very nasty.

The allergy can be bad enough to be life-threatening. This doesn't appear to be the case with me; mine is only enough to cause me to break out in hives. From now on, I'll be keeping a fast-acting antihistamine with me when out and about in areas with lots of bees.

Desensitization works well for dangerous beesting allergies.

Lying down makes the swelling from a head sting worse, simply due to gravity. Water flows down. Converse for stings in the legs.

There are lots of plants that are good for reducing swelling, such as witch hazel and plantain. Unfortunately I didn't have any of the ones I found out about to hand, so I couldn't try them out for myself.

The lymphoid system, which removes fluid from swollen tissues (among other things), relies on muscular and cardiovascular action to do its work. Therefore, gently tapping the swollen area with your fingertips, working towards the heart, and working the muscles around it help reduce swelling.

Apitoxin is a pretty impressive chemical cocktail. It's acidic, which causes immediate, burning pain. It has histamines in it, which provoke an allergic reaction. It has anticoagulants and agents that dilate blood vessels, allowing it to spread further. It has an agent that breaks down cell walls, causing tissue damage and even necrosis.

An individual beesting only has about 5-50 micrograms of venom. That's less than the weight of a grain of table salt!

The honeybee is the only stinging insect that dies after stinging. The sting has evolved to win fights between insects, but it fails catastrophically when used against a creature with thick, flexible skin, such as a human or another mammal.

Seeing the world through one eye is kind of interesting. I'm suddenly terribly clumsy: without depth perception, passing the salt or reaching for a glass of water become actions that require conscious attention and concentration. Conversely, TV looks a lot realer: my brain knows that the world is in 3D, and since the TV screen now looks the same, I sort of see it as being 3D too. Almost.

My dog is a lot better at dealing with this kind of little mishap than I am. He got something in his eye a while back—a flat seed of some kind—and while it had come out by the time we got him to the vet the next day, his right eye looked more or less like mine now for a few days. Yet it didn't seem to bother him at all. He just went about his normal business using his left eye. I think that's partly just due to being a dog and therefore being naturally able to take things as they come, and partly due to having a more balanced set of senses to work with. With a dog's smell and hearing, he's less reliant on vision than I am.

I am well taken care of by the kind people around me. I am grateful. Thank you.


  1. Not good. My worst beestings(working with plants all my life, numerous bees, wasps and spiders have often had occasion to object to my presence) were on my foot, between two toes as I walked through clover barefoot--that one prevented shoes for several weeks, and on my hand, between fingers, when I clutched a bee as I was absently deadheading a canna.

    They are amazingly attention-grabbing things, bee stings. I can only imagine the difficulties of being stung in the facial area. I found the worst part to be the virulent itching that replaces the swollen tender numbness after a week or so. Still, the bite of the brown recluse was much more painful, long-lasting and intrusive--I'd rather be beestung anyday. Had some blood poisoning issues with that one, too. (Antibiotics are so much more useful than plantain.)

    My sympathies, my friend. Hope my horror stories have given you a sense of comaraderie in affliction. Take care of yourself.

  2. Thanks! Horses for courses, you know. If it's just swelling and irritation, I'll take plantain over antibiotics any day, but once the lymph nodes start getting swollen and painful and I start feeling feverish, that's another story.

    Yesterday was not so much fun, but I'm pretty much okay today. Even got binocular vision back before lunchtime! We'll see about the itching. I've found that a pine resin ointment works well against that, better even than cortisones, and with no side effects (unless you're allergic to pine resin, natch). That one has actually been proven to work in clinical trials.

  3. I just looked up brown recluse. Yikes.